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Students teach second-graders about good nutrition

March 30, 2012

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services

ROBERSONVILLE – Squeals and laughter erupted from the East End Elementary School gym Thursday as second-graders learned about healthy foods from East Carolina University students.

In a modified “red light, green light” nutrition game, the children were challenged to move a little or a lot when the ECU students called out a food name. For “green” or healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, the students walked or ran to the opposite side of the gym. For “red,” or foods that should be eaten sparingly like brownies or cake, the students moved slowly or almost stood still.

The community service project was designed and led by freshmen in ECU’s Wellness Living Learning Community.

In its second year, WLLC is a residential learning opportunity open to all incoming freshmen who have an interest in health and wellness, and in helping to improve the health of others. Selected students live in Garrett Hall and receive personal wellness coaching and health classes. They also share what they have learned with underserved youth in eastern North Carolina.  
Tywanna Purkett, assistant director of campus wellness and co-creator of the program, said similar programs exist at other universities but ECU’s service learning component is unique.

“We take it a step beyond and teach them how to give back to the community,” Purkett said. “We are empowering them to make smart decisions about their health and wellness."

Students in the wellness community are able to connect through social media and orientation before they move to campus. The sense of belonging helps as they adjust to freshman year. “The students tell us they get so much out of it,” said Karen Warren, director of campus wellness.

Ashley Adair, 18, of Harrisburg, dressed as a bunch of purple grapes, held hands with second-graders as they made their way across the gym. A child life major, Adair eventually wants to be an occupational therapist. She was drawn to the wellness community and liked getting to know fellow students before classes started last fall. “I will have friends here for years and years and years,” she said.

Treston Youngblood, 7, said he learned about all the types of food he can eat, and what he shouldn’t eat. He even decided he will try a new green vegetable: celery. His teacher, Winifred Williams, said showing the children foods they should eat is a great first step. She hopes parents can learn from it too.

“It’s a chance for the kids to hear the names of various foods that they probably never have heard of or never seen,” Williams said. “And they are enjoying the movement.”

Media resource teacher Mary Tyndall and third-grade teacher Stephanie Woolard said the ECU students were doing a great job of getting the students’ attention with the activity.

The ECU students decided to adopt East End Elementary, which has about 300 children in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade in Martin County, after learning the school doesn’t have an afterschool program and a majority of the students are eligible for free lunch.

“It’s a community that needs more attention and our students really embraced that,” Warren said. And, the hope is that the elementary students will be encouraged to go to college through their interaction with and exposure to ECU students, she said.

Working with school nurse Amy Guard and social worker Kim Haddock, ECU wellness students have directed other projects at the school like a hand-washing hygiene program and a parent’s night activity on nutrition. They collected and donated more than 200 children’s books, and adopted a family for the holidays. Students also are painting a mural on healthy eating in the cafeteria. 

Brandon Riley, 19, of Raleigh, enjoys working with kids and said it is important to teach them about healthy eating at a young age. “I wish it was put to me that early,” he said.

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